Glossary of Terms in Disaster Management

Sat, 03/21/2015 - 10:16 -- Umar Farooq

In order to understand possible options for reducing potential risks and losses to humanity caused by disaster, it is important to clearly define terms used in disaster mitigation.


An extreme event or condition induced by nature, human, or an economic situation that has the potential to cause harm.  For Example. Blizzard, a landslide or a terrorist attack


The chances of an occurrence of a hazard and chances of its impact on the exposed communities or assets. An example of community living in the foothills in an area prone to landslides. Risk thus depends on;

  1. Likelihood of occurrences of hazards
  2. Likelihood of injury, loos or destruction of the exposed (communities, in this coping capacity)


Exposed populations and assets susceptible to hazards. For example weak buildings or human beings like the aged, children or women, who cannot offer any resilience to the potential hazards are vulnerable.


A hazardous event can become a disaster. For example, if there are communities built on steep slopes, landslides may affect them by causing roads to be blocked by falling debris, killing or injuring people, and disrupting communication links. The community would be unable to cope with this hazardous event and would need to seek outside assistance. In this situation, the event is classified as a disaster. Had the loose stones and debris resulted in a landslide on the other side of the mountain where there were no settlements, it would remain a hazards.

Therefore, a disaster is an unusual occurrence, a sudden or major misfortune that disrupts the basic and normal functioning of a whole society or community within it.


An incident that requires immediate and priority attention and operation.  Emergencies are defined as extraordinary situation in which people are temporally unable to meet their basic survival needs, or there are serious, immediate threats to human life and well-being.  An emergency could be a consequence of a natural disaster, neglect of vulnerable conditions, human error, or environmental degradation.

Disaster on the other hand, are larger in scale and go beyond capacity of emergency response. They are normally categorized based on their cause and linked to speed of impacts.

Other terms that are familiar to us and indicate negative impacts are:

  1. Crisis
  2. Catastrophe
  3. Accident
  4. Disaster
  5. Incident
  6. Emergency
  7. Calamity